Vanadium Resources (ASX:VR8): Easy to mine vanadium in South Africa

Vanadium Resources-CEO Eugene Nel-In Boardroom Broadcasts

An ASX-listed junior vanadium developer, Vanadium Resources owns 74% of the world class, tier 1, Steelpoortdrift Vanadium licensed mining project in Limpopo Province, South Africa.

Founded in 2017 and listed on the ASX (ASX:VR8) in 2018, Vanadium Resources has just completed an exceptional pre-feasibility study in the Steelpoortdrift project in South Africa. CEO Eugene Nel is a qualified metallurgical engineer, starting his career in mining production operations in the early 1990s. During a twelve year period he worked as a metallurgical and operations manager at a number of operating mines. For the last fifteen years Mr Nel has worked in a consulting role to the mining industry, assisting companies worldwide to bring their products into production, as well as assisting with production efficiency improvements. Mr Nel spoke to us about the benefits of the Steelpoortdrift project, the gap in the vanadium market the company is looking to fill, and the promise of an excellent return for investors on a premier vanadium deposit.

Steelpoortdrift project

“Vanadium Resources was listed on the ASX in early 2018,” Mr Nel says, “basically as a reverse listing by a company in South Africa. The mining project being brought on board at that stage was the Steelpoortdrift project, with Vanadium Resources acquiring a 74% stake in the associate South African company who holds the mining rights for the project.”

In addition to its presence for this project in Limpopo Province, South Africa, Vanadium Resources also has ownership in the Quartz Bore Project, a copper-lead-zinc project in Australia’s West Pilbara province, 80 kilometres east of Roebourne in Western Australia.

Work completed on the Quartz Bore Project has been primarily directed towards the discovery of new Volcanogenic Massive Sulphides and previous work has defined a prospective strike length of approximately four kilometres. This project is currently on ice as the company pours all its focus into its flagship Steelpoortdrift project.

“We’ve got a presence in Australia, with half the board being based in Australia, and our company secretary, and then the rest of the board – plus the mining executives – being situated in South Africa, where our main project is located.”

The company has recently seen some excellent results from its pre-feasibility study (PFS) on the project, which essentially checks for the four main pillars that any mining project needs to have in place in order for it to be successful.

“The first pillar being, you need to have a big enough resource that it makes it economical to mine and gives you enough life. In the sense of the Steelpoortdrift project, we’ve got in excess of 350 million tonnes in the measured and indicated categories, so we’ve got a life of mine well in excess of 25 years, probably even longer than 100 years. So the first pillar we cover.”

The second important pillar is for the material to be easily minable. At Steelpoortdrift there is a huge slab of mineralised material 10-30m wide, sitting just below the surface and tilting gradually towards one end, making it an easily mineable resource. This will help the company bring Opex and Capex down significantly.

“The third pillar is that the material needs to be amenable to metallurgical processing, and in the case of Steelpoortdrift all the metallurgical test work showed that it is easy to process. We can get very high upgrade ratios, some of the highest in the industry.”

The final pillar is to have the required grade in the resource, in this case to have vanadium present. The in situ grade at Steelpoortdrift is amongst the highest vanadium grades in the world, lying between 1.1% and 1.2% vanadium in the high grade sections. There is about 180m tonnes of this high grade material present in the area.

“If you’ve got those four key pillars in place, that’s why we’ve been able to produce an outstanding pre-feasibility study, where we’ve shown that at a capital cost of $200m we can achieve a total project NPV of $1.2bn at an IRR of 45%.”

The company will be producing a vanadium flake greater than 98% purity, on which the production costs will be in the region $3.08 per pound, putting it in the lowest quartile for the entire industry.

“With all those factors in place,” Mr Nel explains, “the PFS highlights that this is a world-class, low-cost, high-volume project, with a very high degree of confidence that it can succeed.”

Vanadium Resources in Boardroom Broadcasts
An ASX-listed junior vanadium developer, Vanadium Resources owns 74% of the world class, tier 1, Steelpoortdrift Vanadium licensed mining project in Limpopo Province, South Africa

Vanadium

The mining environment in South Africa is well established. The Steelpoortdrift titaniferous magnetite deposit is located in the prolific Bushveld Geological Complex, within a known mineral and vanadium producing area within reach of proven processing plants, railway and road options and ports.

There are 10-12 other major mining operations within a 30km radius of the Steelpoortdrift project, operated by international companies like Glencore, Anglo-American Platinum and African Rainbow Minerals.

“In the context of operating in South Africa with such a well-established mining environment, it does allow us to operate at a much lower cost than for example somebody putting up a mine 600km in the bush in the middle of Africa.”

The infrastructure is stable, meaning the company has access to water and power, as well as to labour skills from the region’s sizeable mining community. Logistically, it is situated about 200km drive from Johannesburg, where more than 90% of its processing plants, equipment and material is manufactured, helping to cut costs.

“On the other side of the spectrum, because South Africa is a mining country – we’ve been mining in this country for the last 150 years – the government does understand mining, and there are quite a few legislations that have recently come in that are mining-friendly, and trying to promote the mining environment.”

There is a well-established banking system in the country, meaning there are no problems with Forex controls and other issues that may impact upon the operating environment. In that sense, South Africa is one of the easiest places to do business in Africa for mining.

“Vanadium is actually one of the more abundant materials in the world,” Mr Nel says. “As far as I remember it’s about the sixth most abundant material or mineral in the world. However, it’s not always very commonly found in deposits where it can be mined.”

Vanadium has a variety of different uses. Up until now, the majority has been used in steel making, as a compound added to rebar to increase its tensile strength. It’s also used in the aeronautical industry and in a wide variety of other chemical industries.

“Historically, steel making has made up about 90% of the consumption. However, that picture is starting to change. For the last ten years the implementation of vanadium redox flow batteries, or VRFBs, has become more prominent. A VRFB is a bulk electrical storage battery that’s used very commonly with renewable energy projects.”

This is the type of battery that isn’t limited by cycle times or cycle life, so has an unlimited life. It can also be charged and discharged at the same time, so it’s got a very high application in the renewable energy and bulk energy storage sector.

“With the movement away from fossil fuels and for the world economy trying to be more environmentally friendly, the market for VRFBs is set to increase exponentially over the next 10-15 years. Bloomberg has predicted that the battery market alone will increase by up to 300 or 400% within the next 5-6 years.”

This growing secondary market to steel production is predicted to be in a supply deficit by 2025, as there haven’t been any new projects coming online in this sector for the last ten years, and there aren’t any major new projects due to come online in the next year or two.

That deficit could be significantly higher if the VRFB market grows more than expected. 

“Current projections show 5% growth YOY in vanadium demand,” Mr Nel says, “and with some ageing infrastructure on existing mines, we do believe there is a major market share that needs to be filled.”

Vanadium Resources in Boardroom Broadcasts
There are 10-12 other major mining operations within a 30km radius of the Steelpoortdrift project, operated by international companies like Glencore, Anglo-American Platinum and African Rainbow Minerals

Diverse senior management team

Mr Nel ended up becoming involved with the company through his previous consultation work, where he once was employed by Vanadium Resources. His work involved managing the company’s metallurgical test work and all the design work up to the scoping study level.

“There was then the natural progression when our previous Managing Director resigned, that I got promoted into the CEO role. In terms of the other key team members, Mr Jurie Wessels is our Chairman. He’s been involved in the mining industry for about 25 years, heavily involved in the exploration side of things.”

Mr Wessels has significant experience in the sourcing and assessment of exploration and exploitation projects and in the governance, funding and management of resource companies. He has explored for various minerals in Africa, South America, and Europe and practised as a minerals lawyer up to 2003.

“Mr Nico Van Der Hoven, another Director, is also currently Chairman on Bauba Resources, which is an operating chrome mine, not too far from the Steelpoortdrift project, so he’s got a very in-depth knowledge of the mining environment and mining operations.”

Non-Executive Director Michael Davy has over 16 years’ experience across a range of industries, having previously held a senior management role for Songa Offshore where he assisted with the start-up of the Australian operations and managed the finance team for a two rig operation with multi-hundred million dollar revenues.

“Mr John Ciganek is qualified as a mining engineer, but for the last twenty years he has been heavily involved with debt structuring, financing, mergers and acquisitions. If you look at that team, we’ve got quite a range of expertise, so a very diverse group of senior management.”

There are several issues currently affecting the vanadium market as a whole. COVID-19 has actually had a slightly positive impact, with a huge amount of infrastructure development projects coming out of it, which will need steel for construction.

“The other impact that has occurred is in China. With China’s move towards reducing carbon emissions, they’ve placed a cap on some of their furnaces. The furnaces in China produce vanadium as a secondary by-product, and with there being a cap on their production levels, their production of vanadium is starting to be curtailed.”

This meant that 2020 was the first year that China became a net importer of vanadium, rather than its historical position as an exporter. This added to all the other environmental legislation around carbon emissions means that the vanadium market will grow significantly going forward.

“Finally, I noticed a day or two ago that China has also placed a curb on the reuse of lithium batteries, due to safety concerns. With lithium being one of the major competitors to vanadium in the market, we believe that might also have a slight impact on the market share of vanadium going forward.”

In terms of future growth, Vanadium Resources has just finalised its pre-feasibility study, and now has short term goals of making use of this study to finalise its maiden ore reserve statement, which is very close.

“With a pre-feasibility study of that magnitude coming out, there is a lot of interest in the market, so we will be engaging any potential funders around going forward into our definitive feasibility study [DFS], and we’re hoping to commence that by [August 2021], with completion early next year.”

The company’s medium term goal then is to complete the DFS, then to make the final investment decision on the project, and then to start construction on the mine towards the latter part of 2022.

“Key milestones would be the clearing of the maiden ore reserve, it would be commencement of the definitive feasibility study, and potentially looking at off take agreements on the back of that, and then final investment decision to construct.”

Vanadium is one of the dark horses in the renewable metals space, but Mr Nel is sure that when people start to understand the market, they will realise that Vanadium Resources is currently sitting on one of the premier deposits in the world.

With a deposit of vanadium that is of the highest grade, the biggest volume, and is easy to mine, Vanadium Resources is about to have a lot of eyes on it from potential investors, and the company welcomes such attention. Find out more about Vanadium Resources by visiting https://vr8.global/.

Openspace Architecture: A window to nature

Openspace Architecture Owner Don Gurney in Boardroom Broadcasts

Based on Vancouver’s North Shore, Openspace Architecture is a boutique architectural and interior design practice specializing in single family and resort residential projects, with a broad range of experience in master planning and infrastructure projects.

A visionary who truly cares for others and deeply respects the land, Openspace Owner Don Gurney produces work that is contemporary in expression, with a deep understanding of the long tradition of architecture and design. Mr Gurney’s hands-on methodology is driven by his great reverence for the relationships between people, nature, and the built environment. The Openspace team strives to elevate the field of Architecture, creating a legacy through design excellence. Mr Gurney speaks to us about his experience of open space planning, the company’s focus on introducing its building system to countries around the world, and the commitment to creating buildings that provide a window to nature.

Open space planning

The practice began life in 1998 as Don Gurney Architects, founded by Mr Gurney alongside current Associate and Senior Technologist Eric Pettit. In 2008 the name of the company was changed to Openspace Architecture.

“That name comes from my planning experience,” Mr Gurney says. “I was with an international planning firm for many years, where we worked on projects internationally, but primarily in the downtown waterfront area [of Vancouver].”

Open space planning became a large component of those mega developments, during which Mr Gurney gained experience working for clients such as Marathon, Concord Pacific and Vancouver Port Authority. Realizing and working with open space planning became very important to him, and that’s how the name originated.

In his current work, Mr Gurney aims to find balance in the relationship between objects and spaces to create an effortless sense of harmony. He approaches projects with both restraint and an eye for detail, using natural materials to harness minimalist expression.

Openspace Architecture in Boardroom Broadcast
Based on Vancouver’s North Shore, Openspace Architecture is a boutique architectural and interior design practice specializing in single family and resort residential projects, with a broad range of experience in master planning and infrastructure projects

“My whole background has been in the construction industry. I started out very early, from my early teens, working construction. That led to a technical diploma in architectural design and drawing. From that I was a technician for five years with an architectural firm, then in 1983 I decided to go back to university and study architecture at Carleton University.”

Mr Gurney brings a humanist approach to his comprehensive understanding of planning requirements, honoring site context and working hard to enhance the way buildings are experienced, with the ultimate aim of creating harmony between indoors and outdoors.

Local and international projects

The projects Openspace has been involved in over the years have spread across Vancouver, from West Van to North Van and the Olympic training facility. Locally, the practice’s most notable work is in West Vancouver and the Whistler area.

Openspace Architecture in Boardroom Broadcasts
With a commitment to creating buildings that provide a window to nature, and the capabilities to introduce its successful building system around the globe, Openspace Architecture has navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully

Known across the globe as a world class ski resort, Whistler has seen a lot of work over the last ten years, and it has become established as an all-seasons resort, bringing many more people to the area over the course of a year.

“It’s now for mountain bikers, and everything else from fly fishing to hiking, and everything else that goes along with that resort. As far as our clients are concerned [at Whistler], I would say that probably 95% of them are international clients, from all over the place – the UK, Australia, South Africa and Malaysia.”

In terms of its work in British Columbia, the practice’s footprint is far reaching, having done work on the interior of BC, as well as on Vancouver Island, in Tofino, Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Lake. 

“Most of the projects we do,” Mr Gurney explains, “with the exception of West Vancouver, are secondary projects or second residential resort type homes. So this has been our primary focus for the last fifteen years.”

Openspace Architecture in Boardroom Broadcasts
Open space planning became a large component of those mega developments, during which Mr Gurney gained experience working for clients such as Marathon, Concord Pacific and Vancouver Port Authority

The company’s history has seen much of its work done in this space, making impressive second homes for high net worth individuals. Recently it has been moving into other architectural areas, such as hotels and restoration.

“We’re doing some restorative work that has been happening in California, most particularly in Sonoma County, where the fires have had a devastating effect on the wineries. We’re rebuilding a winery and a number of support buildings that were devastated by the Kincade fire in 2019.”

In addition to its work in California, the company has been involved in several other projects in the United States, including four successful resort homes at Noi’Ulu Estates, Hualalai, on the Big Island of Hawaii, and ongoing work at another resort in Hawaii building family homes for private clients.

The practice is also beginning a large and an exciting off-the-grid planning and architectural design project for residential homes, which will be located midway between Carmel and Monterey on the California coast.

In addition to local success, the passion for architecture in the company has led to projects in a number of countries, with a focus on taking local experience and adapting to the work and design styles of different cultures. 

“We started out doing simple timber frame homes, and evolved that over the years into doing these lovely projects which are a mix of timber frame and hybrid steel buildings. We’ve developed a nice system, and we want to introduce other countries – such as India, Japan, Mongolia – to these systems, to bring them a new type of housing.”

The company’s history has seen much of its work done in this space, making impressive second homes for high net worth individuals

Creative outlook

Architecture has always been a competitive sector, but in recent years it has seen the rise of new technologies, particularly in terms of highly integrated 3D modelling known as building information modelling (BIM), which have changed the face of the industry.

“[BIM] is taking over much of the industry, but where it hasn’t really reached is the residential market. These homes are every bit as expensive as some of the smaller hospitals and schools, but for some reason the digital information modelling has not got into the market. Given the level of sophistication of these homes, it certainly should be.”

This is an area that Mr Gurney feels Openspace Architecture has an advantage over competitors. With BIM, the company is able to resolve the buildings, relative to the site, in 3D computer modelling with integrated structural, mechanical, electrical and smart home systems, before even beginning construction.

With its focus on a highly creative process, Openspace offers a playful yet rigorous approach to design, bringing projects to life through the pollination of key ideas and a strongly integrated design process.

Openspace Architecture in Boardroom Broadcasts
Openspace offers a playful yet rigorous approach to design, bringing projects to life through the pollination of key ideas and a strongly integrated design process

The open space nature of its designs is integral to the company’s ethos. Buildings with lots of glass, and the large spans created by timber and steel, offer its inhabitants a huge window on nature, like a lens through which to view the natural world.

“It’s quite an experience to live in these homes. When you look at a particular site, whether it’s a mountain site, or a desert site, or a lakefront site, you find the best part of the site, and then put the building on the worst part of the site, so that you can view onto the best part. This is essentially what we mean by open space planning.”

Teamwork is integral to the company’s ongoing success. Clients and consultants are made to feel welcome and appreciated in Openspace’s creative studio, which provides the space for an invaluable exchange of cutting edge ideas and constructive critiques.

The company’s current focus is on taking the technologies it has developed to other countries, sharing with the rest of the world Canada’s excellence in the space. So far the reception in these countries has been very positive.

“Something that we think is important in the work that we do, whether it’s commercial work or residential work, is just keeping people in contact with real materials. We’re using materials like stone, timber, some metals, that once you walk in the building you don’t need a period of adjustment, your body is settled and at one with it.”

Coupled with the need for low energy consumption and sustainable design, the mixture of real materials and a feeling of communion with nature is the nexus of Openspace’s business, creating a blend of mind and spirit that remains critical to its success.

With a commitment to creating buildings that provide a window to nature, and the capabilities to introduce its successful building system around the globe, Openspace Architecture has navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully. Find out more about Openspace Architecture by visiting www.openspacearchitecture.com

The drastic changes occurring in corporate culture through Covid’s technology boom

Management is currently scrambling to take a position into innovative technologies thanks to the cultural shift that has reared its ugly head over the past 18 months. The belief of the disruption in employee hiring and retention supported by the work-from-home movement has taken the facility away from corporations. Technology isn’t any longer a “nice to have”, but a requirement, and together with that, the fact that innovation initiatives frequently fail, or the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality hampers their performance.

From an administrative perspective, there could also be a transparent business strategy, but without the organization working in harmony towards a typical goal, the innovative strategy can fail. Success relies on three pillars to succeed; management’s will to speculate the resources, team leaders that evaluate the requirements to fulfil the mandate, and therefore the front-line workers who inevitably are required to utilize the technologies without proof of efficiency improvements.

In order to form an innovative culture, team leaders need to ensure that each one of the employees know that innovation is not an option. It must be woven into the culture of the business, with a transparent understanding within their performance descriptions and procedures, also because the perceived improvements that the innovation will help attain a higher life/work balance. Based on the changing work model, team leaders also are tasked with ensuring that there is not a decrease in productivity.

Innovative companies understand that success is not an on-the-spot result and must have the determination and endurance to adapt as the company evolves from the prevailing state towards the long run state. Failure is not the tip, but part of the educational process to implement further changes and must consider learning as an ongoing experiment.

Innovation is the resulting change in how the organization evolves and does not require changes in how people behave. For organizations to embrace innovation, teams must embrace the way that they interact at the local level, communicate across the created virtual workspace, and operate in a less structured environment.

With technologies that equal the playing field, management, team leaders and frontline employees must develop a sense of trust, eliminate the traditional hierarchy, and permit for a free flow of information across the corporation and celebrate risk and reward.

To compete on an ever-growing global scale, management must make efforts to inspire all levels of the organization to feel free to be creative where their voices are heard. With the scarcity of talented employees, organizations must learn to be lean, using the incredible technological advances we have seen over the past 18 months. Those who embrace this innovative strategy stand on the verge of becoming industry leaders at warp speed.

We now have the flexibility to permit employees to figure in a very reduced stress environment, contributing at every step of the process. Increased visibility across the entire supply chain creates a real-time communicative environment. This independence brings a newfound sense of purpose and community.

While most of the above has focused on the positive, as my subject line indicates, all is not as simple as it has been laid out. There are always individuals who fight change, are comfortable with the status quo, and do their best to sabotage the innovative initiative. My personal experience as founder of Timereaction exposed them to be the insecure employees, the ones that are just skating by, frightened that transparency will expose their inadequacies. This type of sabotage is discreet, whispering at the water cooler, referred to as workplace deviance, can destroy the efforts of months of planning, and engaged employee performance. These deviants may make up a minute percentage of the organization, but their impact cannot be overlooked. Like cornered rats clinging on to self-preservation, they seek out those that question the innovative intentions, and draw them into the dark side.

If such behavior is not detected and surgically removed like a cancer, workplace bullying can distract innovation throughout the organization, often targeting the best employees because they are the most threatening to their position. Of all the workplace environments that I have had the pleasure of participating in change management initiatives, these are the most dangerous of individuals, and the greatest cause of failure.

Allan Diamond is the Co-founder of Timereaction, www.timereaction.com.

Spymasters, conspiracies, the PRC, & Dong Jingwei

The tensions currently exposed between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States, let alone the more than 100 years of competition between Communist regimes and the assorted democracies that styled the West (from the early 1917 Bolsheviks via the Cold War Eastern Europeans to present day super-power PRC), are real enough. Trade, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, intellectual theft on a scale never seen before, “social credit / surveillance communism” and continued human rights abuses all make for a toxic conversation. But the reported defection of top spymaster State Security Vice Minister Dong Jingwei made news beyond online commentators like SpyTalk or regional service Chanel News Asia based in Singapore. 

Intelligence chiefs are rarely the news story themselves – they are more civil servant and bureaucrat than fast driving, martini drinking James Bond creatures from the world of espionage literature. Think more Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister than an older Jason Bourne or even Liam Neeson on a bad day. William Colby the CIA Director for part of the 1970s or Alan Wrigley ASIO Director General in the 1980s were consummate leaders with strong values – but never let themselves become the focus of the organisation or the narrative.

Dong Jingwei is said to be in hiding or detention or under protection. This prominent Chinese spy in simple terms – more a spymaster or leading organisational figure – was reported to have defected to the United States and offered information about the start of the covid pandemic. News that has slowly gained some traction since February of this year. Deputy Minister of State Security Dong Jingwei is said to have secretly flown from Hong Kong to the United States on February 10, according to information that initially surfaced on Chinese media sites and Twitter. 

It was alleged that he travelled alongside his daughter Dong Yang and has sought asylum. Rumours are circulating that Jingwei has offered to pass vital confirmation data about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, at the center of the covid lab leak theory that had been downplayed as a “conspiracy” by many over the past 18 months. The lab leak narrative is getting more oxygen and may feature in President Biden’s soon to be concluded report on the pandemic.

But do spymasters matter? Can you trust the words of someone who is desperate to be given a new life even if under the closest protection for the rest of their lives? History and common sense suggest a mixed picture between trust versus deception. But in this era of big data, global technology and severe levels of disinformation that would have been seen as pathetic over the top propaganda in earlier times, there are few guarantees.

Dong Jingwei was a prestigious head of counterintelligence at China’s Ministry of State Security, also known as the Guoanbu. His intelligence world would have included knowledge about China’s high technology intellectual property strategies, suppression policies towards minorities (religious, ethnic or ideological) and the controversial early pathogenetic studies of the virus, patterns of the predicted spread of the Covid-19 virus with the associated damage to the global economy and societies from PRC decisions taken on people movement and transport. The murky details of the money trail between other governments or corporations that might have had a hand in funding controversial research are also in play.

Former Chinese Foreign Ministry official Dr Han Lianchao, who defected after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, wrote in a tweet in July that Dong Jingwei’s defection “is really a big bombshell”. He also reportedly shared a photo of Mr. Jingwei, claiming that he was last seen in public in September 2020. The photo has since allegedly been removed from the Chinese search engine Baidu. So much smoke, so many mirrors.

There are more questions and precious few answers. It was reported that this spymaster was an attendee at a recent high level Chinese government meeting (with plenty of photos to prove it) but critics and cynics cry “photo shopping or make believe”. 

There are mysteries and there are secrets. Secrets are knowledge held by the few from the many. If Dong Jingwei is really in the hands of the West (somewhere safe, secure and hopefully unknown to the Chinese regime) he may provide some of the missing jigsaw pieces to gain a better understanding of what is happening in China and how China is dealing with its immense power at a time when internal pressures (demographic, economic and social) are proving hard to suppress. 

Spymasters are not Merlin or even Alchemists. They may not be the key piece of the puzzle but can give context, detail and interpretation to whatever evidence, data or accepted testimonials the West, the WHO or anyone else can muster to better understand the origins of the pandemic. 

Sir Humphrey used to offer Jim Hacker always options – including the brave one. This was sure to steer the hapless politician from that direction or strategy. Today we might need to have politicians, business leaders and journalists embrace the unpalatable truths (as best we can establish) to enable us to tackle the challenges of a global breakdown in international affairs. 

We are not at war yet … but we are in a warlike environment of hybrid grey zone conflict where the national interest and the broader global peace are precariously balanced between poor decisions and no decisions. This spymaster may hold some of the keys to our better decisions.

Noel Hadjimichael is a London based public policy consultant in the security, defence and civil society space with relevant experience working in politics, the civil service, industry and the charitable sectors.

Strong IPO pipelines for the new financial year and the ASX’s largest float since 2018

Observers of Initial Public Offerings (IPO) wondered what 2021 would bring after a rush of companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in the fourth quarter of 2020. Would strong growth continue or would the IPO market slow?

The answer: healthy IPO momentum persisted in the first half of 2021, at a slightly more civilised pace, as economic conditions and investor interest remained strong.

In the first six months of 2021, 85 companies joined the ASX board, raising $3.5 billion of capital and listing with a combined market capitalisation of $22.8 billion.

This article examines the composition of these new listings, compares ASX to global peers on IPOs this calendar year-to-date, and considers the outlook for the rest of 2021.

Strong first half for mining

Nearly half of listings in the first half of 2021 came from the resources sector. These listings collectively raised more than $650 million. Buoyed by continued strength in commodity prices and investor sentiment, many listings involved mining exploration companies that capitalised on favourable conditions.

The largest raising and value listed within the mining sector was the March listing of mineral drilling contractor, DDH1 (ASX: DDH). It raised $150 million and had a market capitalisation of $375 million at listing.

Mining services company, MLG Oz (ASX: MLG), and gold exploration and development company, Tulla Resources PLC (ASX: TUL), both raised more than $70 million.

Diverse listings in financials, healthcare and technology

The largest ASX capital raising in the first half of 2021 was $500 million by non-bank lender, Pepper Money (ASX: PPM) at the end of May. The ASX-listed Fintech sector comprises a broad, fast-growing cohort of companies, led by the BNPL (Buy-Now-Pay-Later) sector and other non-traditional finance platforms.

Another fintech listing, Latitude Financial (ASX: LFS), listed in April after raising $200 million.

The broader technology sector was buoyed by the high-profile listing of Airtasker (ASX: ART) through an $84-million capital raising. Airtasker ended June up 69 per cent (compared to its offer price) and was up as much as 169 per cent two days after its IPO. Airtasker entered the S&P/ASX All Technology Index before the financial-year end.

There were eight healthcare listings. Australian Clinical Labs (ASX: ACL), a private hospital pathology business, raised more than $400 million. As the largest healthcare capital raising on ASX in over six years, the Australian Clinical Labs IPO reinforced the strong investor interest in ASX-listed life sciences and healthcare companies.

In spite of international border closures, ASX attracted overseas companies looking to capitalise on the investor appetite, attractive valuations and deep superannuation pool available for growth companies. Australia boasts the world’s fifth largest pool of pension fund assets.

The largest international listing for ASX in the first half was New Zealand specialist chemical company, DGL Group (ASX: DGL), which raised $100 million.

New Zealand provided the most listings with DGL, My Food Bag Group (ASX: MFB) and TruScreen Group (ASX: TRU).

To the end of June, 10 international companies from six countries – with a combined market capitalisation of $3.7 billion – listed on ASX.

A notable US listing was Chicago-based online education business, Keypath Education International (ASX: KED). It listed at the start of June.

In June, Woolworths divested the drinks and hotels business, Endeavour Group (ASX: EDV). It was the largest listing by market capitalisation in the first half, at $11.1 billion.

ASX welcomed the first Listed Investment Company (LIC) IPO listing since the COVID-19 pandemic began: Salter Brothers Emerging Companies (ASX: SB2), which raised $20 million.

In June, Wilson Asset Management listed WAM Strategic Value (ASX: WAR), another LIC, raising $225 million.

Global Comparison

Global equities continued an impressive comeback from the sharemarket turmoil in March 2020, extending gains through the first half of 2021.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 Index broke records, surpassing 7,400 points in June. The index returned 11% for the period, in line with other global markets.

In new-listing volumes, ASX ranked fifth globally, behind only the US and Chinese markets in the first half of 2021 (Dealogic data).

Hong Kong had the largest listing of the period, by capital raised and market capitalisation. This was the Chinese video-streaming technology company and Tik Toc rival, Kuaishou Technology. It listed with a market capitalisation of more than $80 billion.

Chinese listings dominated the first half of 2021, comprising half of the top 10 listings globally. Other companies listing on the NYSE and Hong Kong exchanges included ride-share provider DiDi Global, and e-commerce platform JD Logistics.

In the US, a recent trend was reversed in the second-quarter of 2021 as traditional IPOs outnumbered the volume and value of Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPAC) listings for the first time since the second quarter of 2020 (Source Dealogic).

It will be interesting if this pattern continues through the rest of 2021, as many recent SPAC listings look to cement acquisitions and provide investor returns.

Second-half IPO outlook

The end of June marks the end of the financial year in Australia. The tax year 2020/21 resulted in 176 new listings on ASX – the most in a financial year since 2007/08. This further demonstrates the strength of the sharemarket recovery from March 2020, and the investor appetite for new listings.

The New Financial Year has begun with the largest ASX float since 2018. PEXA Group (ASX: PXA), the electronic-conveyancing platform, raised $1.75 billion and listed with a market capitalisation of more than $3 billion.

Interest in mining IPOs, and international interest in ASX IPOs generally, continue to thrive. This was shown by the listing of NexGen Energy (ASX: NXG), which had a market capitalisation of $2.5bn in early July. NexGen is Canadian uranium mining developer already listed on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges.

The listing of local copper producer, 29Metals (ASX: 29M), which raised more than $500 million, further added to mining IPO sentiment.

Both IPOs reinforce the optimism in the mining sector and justify ASX’s reputation as the global home for resource listings.

Provided market sentiment and economic conditions remain favourable, the pipeline of new listings suggests another busy time when the IPO window re-opens after the reporting season (in August) and we move towards the end of the calendar year.

This includes continued momentum in the mining sector, and key listings from Australian and international companies in strategic sectors, such as technology and healthcare.

Kate Galpin is the Business Development Manager, Listings for The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), www2.asx.com.au.

Envirosuite (ASX:EVS): A market leader in environmental intelligence

Envirosuite (ASX:EVS) CEO Jason Cooper in Boardroom Broadcasts

An innovative tech company with roots in science, engineering, and consulting, Envirosuite is a global leader in environmental intelligence, utilising proprietary technology and real-time localised data to help industries grow and communities thrive.

Envirosuite is an ASX-listed company (ASX:EVS) with its origins starting as far back as 1990. The company uses science and technology to deliver software as a service (SaaS) solutions relating to air quality, water quality, noise, and vibration, with a varied list of clients including airports, water, mining and industrial, waste and wastewater. Jason Cooper has 20 years’ experience in the technology sector, and recently took on the role of CEO, replacing Peter White. Mr Cooper speaks to us about the value of environmental intelligence, the market-leading outlook he brings to his role, and the huge avenues of growth that offer a significant return on investments now and into the future.

Helping businesses thrive

“Environmental intelligence first started to make the scene a couple of years ago,” Mr Cooper explains. “It’s how you derive insights from environmental parameters that exist. There has been a considerable emphasis put on how businesses and society interact with the environment.”

This has moved beyond a stage of simple data collection and into the realm of analysis and insights, with many companies now turning that information into goals that can be acted upon for the good of the environment, the communities that surround them and their own operations.

“We look at environmental parameters such as noise, vibration, water quality, dust and air quality, and we take those parameters and then we start to understand how that impacts the society or the asset in which the company is operating.”

For example, a mine site needs to operate within vicinity of a community, and by doing that it understands that there are certain environmental parameters that affect how that community lives and how the site can be safely operated.

“As you can imagine, excess dust coming out of a mine site would have a negative impact on communities. Certain conditions in that environmental intelligence will contribute to how that mine site operates. It’s about giving our customers actionable insights based on those parameters.”

Envirosuite’s SaaS solutions assesses factors such as weather, the existing location, and trajectories, in order to provide the mine operator with predictive insights to ascertain when the company should time certain operations and at which part of the mine.

“We have a fairly large spectrum of customers that we are focusing on. Whilst mining is certainly a strong focus for us – we have some of the largest organisations in the world as our customers – we also have a very strong footing within the waste and wastewater communities. These are companies like Veolia and Suez, who are both our customers.”

Within the wastewater industry, Envirosuite generally helps solve odour problems. Odours at treatment plants originate from the receival of waste and as a by-product of the treatment process. Local weather conditions can intensify the impacts of odours and how far they travel, which impacts the community. The company helps those customers detect the specific type of odour and how it is affecting the community.

“We’re also number one globally within commercial airports, doing noise monitoring. When a plane comes into land, certain planes you don’t really hear, but others may come in too fast, too much of a pitch, so there’s excessive noise created. Our customers are from Los Angeles to Beijing to Heathrow, and certainly very strong in Australia.”

The global shift in corporate mindset around environmental issues means companies around the world are now recognising the importance not only of being seen to be doing good, but also actually doing it. Envirosuite’s vision is to allow businesses to thrive in parallel with growing communities.

“For most companies around the world now, it’s about how they can build a growing and profitable business without having a negative impact on the environment that they live in. There are simple, basic fundamentals for our customers. They know and they recognise that there is a long-term engagement.”

Envirosuite in Boardroom Broadcasts
Envirosuite (ASX:EVS) offers three products including 1). noise monitoring in commercial airports, 2). dust, water quality, and odour monitoring, and 3). water and wastewater treatment infrastructure

The mine sites Envirosuite works with are situated in mineral-rich locations, where communities are also built. Similarly, some of the company’s customers are ports, which know that the city’s viability depends on ships coming in, to unload containers, and to leave. It’s a part of the city’s economic growth.

The result has been a shift in how these issues are approached. Businesses now come to Envirosuite proactively, with prior knowledge of a problem, and the desire to be able to keep growing and engage with the community. Envirosuite’s solutions help industries to optimise operations, while strengthening their social licence to operate by building trust with communities and satisfying regulators.

“A big part of our solution here is how our technology enables a business to recognise how it’s performing, how they then communicate that to the community, and how the community then feels engaged in jointly solving this problem.”

There have already been several new executive orders signed by US President Joe Biden around these issues, one of which is designed to secure environmental justice and spur economic growth. This is to encourage businesses working in a particular area not to have a negative impact on lower economic societies.

“If you look at the water situation globally, we know that it is a very scarce resource. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in water-stressed areas. There are certain reports that estimate by 2030, around $1.9 trillion needs to be spent to address global water infrastructure. What we’re doing is playing a pivotal role in enabling this transition.”

Market-leading outlook

Having recently taken over as CEO of Envirosuite, Mr Cooper is looking to make positive change. He reminds us that he is first and foremost an engineer, having spent many years working for Siemens. He calls Siemens one of the world’s greatest engineering firms, and says this experience taught him to take pride in market leadership.

“Siemens had a perspective that they wanted to be number one or two in any of the markets they operated in,” he says. “I really am taking that same approach here, which has helped us narrow our focus into the markets that we want to pursue. We want to be one or two in any of the markets we play in.”

Mr Cooper has recently returned from three years immersing himself in the machinations of California’s Silicon Valley, where he worked in high growth companies and gained an understanding of what corporate greatness really looks like.

“We operate now in very much a globalised world, and competition comes from every corner of the planet. You have to have the right strategy; you have to have the right product-market fit; you have to have the right team around you to achieve that. I think it’s having that big global picture about what does breed success – invest into those parts.”

A big part of his focus recently has been on product strategy. The company already has a strong product-market fit, but the aim is to invest further into building world-class software platforms based on scientific fundamentals, which the company has been built on.

An innovative tech company with roots in science, engineering, and consulting, Envirosuite (ASX:EVS) is a global leader in environmental intelligence

“A key part of our challenge is to take incredibly complex scientific models and to distil that into easy-to-understand information. [The key is] to simplify that message into something you can translate, and take meaningful action.”

Customer engagement is a fundamentally important area in building out the company, and Mr Cooper is putting a renewed focus on that. The company already has a strong global reach, but the aim is to build a truly world-class customer acquisition team, as well as closer relationships with customers.

The company currently offers three products; first is noise monitoring in commercial airports; second, the industrial platform focusing on dust and water quality monitoring, as well as odour monitoring; and its new product, EVS Water, helps design, optimise and improve biological, industrial, water and wastewater treatment infrastructure. 

“With our airport product, we’re already number one in that market. What we will see there is continued growth. We are starting to see an increase in air traffic, and that will continue. The world post-COVID will be very different for airports, but a large amount of that will be around that community engagement piece. We do see a strong airport growth.”

There is also some strong new product innovation coming through in the airport market, with continued investment into technology driving deeper into operations within the world’s leading commercial airports.

“Within the industrial platform, we are going to be focusing on mining, and waste and wastewater. We have a strong global footprint here; we have some of the world’s biggest customers. Our focus now is to broaden our penetration for some of these global accounts, to drive greater market adoption. What we’re looking to do now is to build a market, not just chase revenue.”

The final product, EVS water, is very new, having only been brought to market in the last three months. This targets water treatment facilities and other utilities. It combines artificial intelligence and digital twin technology to predict and avoid water quality incidents, while identifying process improvements and cost savings for facilities in real-time.

“This is around providing a return on investment,” Mr Cooper says. “We’ve seen within a short space of time absolute market validation. I see this as a huge growth potential for Envirosuite. We’ve got product-market for it, and we know where we’re going to be accelerating. It’s now just working out what is the best go-to-market strategy to actually get the shareholder return. In the short term, I see growth above 20%, and then beyond that there will be significant upside in the coming years.”

Mr Cooper is a big believer in purpose-driven companies, and in this respect Envirosuite is a great company to get behind. What is most noteworthy is that this is Australian technology being taken across the world.

“To be number one globally, based out of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, is a fantastic example of true R&D, true ideation, and executing on it. We will be growing significantly over the next couple of years. We want to be on people’s radar, so for those people who believe in helping the environment and investing in technology, we’d love for people to come and talk to us about joining us on this journey.”

With a focus on helping businesses do the right things for the right reasons, and continued impressive growth, Envirosuite (ASX:EVS) is certainly one to watch out for in 2021 and beyond. Find out more about Envirosuite by visiting envirosuite.com

Personal hypocrisy and utter moral failing: Pierre Poilievre reflects on the Prime Ministership of Justin Trudeau

In September 2021, Canadians will go to the polls in a federal election to determine whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be granted a third term. Trudeau’s record since he’s come to power is continuously under question, with a number of scandals threatening to derail positive work he has done in passing a number of progressive bills, and the general sense that this is a government with a poor overall record. Mr Poilievre served as Minister for Democratic Reform from 2013 to 2015 and Minister of Employment and Social Development in 2015, and currently represents the suburban Ottawa riding of Carleton and serves as the Opposition critic for jobs and industry. He spoke with us recently to take us through the record of the Trudeau government.

An unpopular Prime Minister

“Trudeau is not that popular,” Mr Poilievre says. “In the last election he only got 33% of the vote. He’s very popular with the media, but he’s not popular with the general public. His approval ratings have been consistently very low.”

The distribution of votes won the election in 2019, according to Mr Poilievre, which gave Mr Trudeau a lot of seats with very few votes. One of the most insistent charges the Prime Minister has faced during his time in office are his attacks on free speech.

“Trudeau’s most direct attack on free speech was a bill called C-10, which would give the Canadian telecommunications regulator the control of what you see and say online. Basically, the pretext for the bill was that it would protect Canadian content.”

The C-10 bill was designed as an update to the Broadcasting Act, Canada’s existing legislation aimed at promoting and developing Canadian producers and creators, and requires broadcasters to support cultural industries financially. Mr Poilievre believes this is censorship, and he was a part of the backlash that eventually prevented the bill from passing.

“Trudeau saw it as an opportunity to begin regulating what people get to see online, in order to ensure that they get more left-wing, liberal propaganda that is approved by the state and therefore promoted in our regulatory scheme that gets to manipulate the algorithms. So, we fought back, and that is one of the big issues that’s at stake in this election.”

Another important bill to look at is C-36, which amends the Criminal Code to create a recognizance to keep the peace relating to hate propaganda and hate crime. Mr Poilievre considers this a further arm of the governments ‘attack’ on free speech.

“Trudeau is regularly warning that criticism of him will result in great danger to all of society, and therefore he should have exceptional powers to control what individuals say and see online. Of course that’s antithetical to a free and democratic society.”

To the rest of the world, there doesn’t appear to be too much to dislike about Justin Trudeau and his government, but Canadians know all too well the string of political scandals that have followed him since his first election to office in November 2015. The most prominent was the SNC-Lavalin affair in 2019, when a newspaper article accused the organization of bribing the Gaddafi family in order to defraud the Libyan people of $100m.

“You’d think that a woke, anti-colonial, modern progressive would be outraged by a western company stealing from poor African people. Trudeau pressured his indigenous Attorney General to have the charges dropped, and a special agreement signed that would allow the company to avoid even pleading guilty.”

Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould refused to do what was asked of her, believing that a legal process should commence to determine the company’s guilt or innocence. The result of this refusal was that Wilson-Raybould was relieved of her duties.

“He claimed it was all about protecting jobs – but they were convicted, and nobody lost their job. It wasn’t about protecting workers, it was about protecting a liberal-linked multinational corporation from accountability. It stands as a glowing example of his personal hypocrisy and utter moral failing.”

Mr Trudeau was the first sitting Prime Minister ever caught breaking conflict of interest rules, of which he was found guilty twice, the second time after accepting $250k worth of vacation gifts from someone with whom he had government interest. In most countries, Mr Poilievre says, this would have been enough for a criminal prosecution.

Then came the scandal surrounding the WE charity, an international charity and educational partner that claims to transform lives through sustainable impact. The scandal refers to members of Mr Trudeau’s family receiving speaking fees from the charity soon after he became Liberal leader.

“There’s not a lot of scrutiny about what they actually do, what good they produce with the millions of dollars they raise. This scrutiny led to Justin Trudeau’s family because they had paid his mother and his brother and his wife a total of half a million dollars for speaking fees and travelling expenses. Trudeau then approved a half billion grant to the organization.”

Mr Poilievre served as Minister for Democratic Reform from 2013 to 2015 and Minister of Employment and Social Development in 2015, and currently represents the suburban Ottawa riding of Carleton and serves as the Opposition critic for jobs and industry

Trudeau’s involvement was eventually uncovered and the program was cancelled, with the Prime Minister insisting he did nothing wrong and his Finance Minister resigning as a result of the decision to award this money. For Mr Poilievre, it is just another example of a culture of corruption surrounding Mr Trudeau and his government.

Pandering to foreign interests

In one sense the failures of the Trudeau government have been laid bare in the contention between western and eastern Canada, particularly in the Prairie Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, who have been left so disenchanted by their own country that separatist movements such as “Wexit”, the Alberta separation movement have seen significant support over the last few years.

“It’s been the outright hypocrisy and frontal assault of the Trudeau government on Alberta’s way of life and its resource-based economy. Trudeau has welcomed hundreds of millions of barrels of foreign oil into Canada off the east coast of the Atlantic.”

At the same time, two major pipelines that would have helped western Canada get oil to market have been killed, leaving the province with a terrible discount on its oil. Western Canadian Select is a blend of petroleum that is $15-20 cheaper than the world price because it is unable to be taken to the world market.

“99% of all Canadian oil exports go to the US, because of Trudeau’s effective blockade on the oil sands. That has led unemployment to 8%, it is blowing a multi-billion dollar hole in government revenues and in the local economy. So naturally, Albertans are wondering what future they have if their own national government is going to deliberately attack their economy while favoring foreign oil imports.”

This has led to many people joining calls for Alberta to separate from the rest of the nation, calls which Mr Poilievre considers unjustified, despite the extremely unfair circumstances for people living in the province.

“The solution to this is quite clear,” for Mr Poilievre. “It’s to stop importuning foreign oil and use our own, and encourage the continued improvement in environmental standards in the western Canadian oil sector so that the resource can be harvested responsibly even as we move towards a lower-carbon global economy.”

The distribution of votes won the election in 2019, according to Mr Poilievre, which gave Mr Trudeau a lot of seats with very few votes

There have been questions asked by Albertans as to the ethics behind these decisions, with much of the imported oil coming from Middle Eastern countries where dictatorships prosper and human rights records are questionable if we’re being kind.

“It’s not surprising that [Trudeau] would favor foreign petro-dictatorships over Canadian oil and gas production. He has shown a great affection for dictatorships around the world; he praised Fidel Castro as a great revolutionary; when asked what was his favorite government he said that the Communist dictatorship in China was the model he most preferred.”

China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic has come under increasing scrutiny since the initial outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019, with a number of conspiracy theories growing around the origins of the virus.

It comes at a time when Canada’s relationship with China is already strained, leading back to the detention of two Canadian citizens on spying charges in 2018. The government’s handling of China’s treatment of the detainees is becoming an increasingly contentious issue going into September’s election.

“They’ve got two of our citizens hostage, so we shouldn’t be doing business with them until they release our people. Rather than taking a strong stand, Trudeau believed all of Beijing’s lies about the early pandemic and actually attempted to sign a deal allowing for Canadians to buy the CanSino vaccine (manufactured by China)”

This proposed deal created a delay in Canada receiving vaccines from other sources, setting the nation’s vaccination efforts back 100 days. As far as Mr Poilievre is concerned, this and other questionable arrangements points to Trudeau’s ongoing attempts to pander to Chinese interests, which he believes is putting Canada in great risk long-term.

“We need a full, forensic investigation into the origins of the virus,” Mr Poilievre says. “We know China lied about the very existence and severity of the virus at the outset, which denied the world valuable response time we could have used to contain its early spread.”

Prime Minister Trudeau called an early election, with obvious expectations that he would win. With these issues stacking up against him, however, he may have his work cut out persuading Canadians to give him a third term.

“He thought he would just grab a majority, because people are still afraid of covid, and he thinks that having given away lots of money, people are going to be wonderfully grateful for his benevolence. I think it’s backfiring; he’s plummeted about 10 points in the polls since he called the election. He could be in some real trouble.”

International cyberwarfare, global espionage, and how corporations can protect themselves

The continual evolution of technology provides both consumers and business incredible opportunities, with services such as Artificial Intelligence and automation making our lives more convenient than ever. However, as these technologies evolve, so do the challenges in ensuring our data and finances are kept safe from cyber threats. Society, in general, has shifted from merely embracing the benefits of technology to essentially being dependent on it, which presents more significant opportunities for cybercrime on all levels – from attacks on individuals to industrial and governmental espionage.

This increase in dependence on technology necessitates the development and continued use of cybersecurity systems. Whether it’s an antivirus application on a home computer or smartphone, or a cybersecurity team employed to protect a large corporation, all technology users should have some level of protection from cyberattacks.

What is Cybersecurity?

Each advancement in technology presents new opportunities for those seeking to exploit potential vulnerabilities for their gain or agenda. While malware and viruses have existed ever since computing systems became widely available, the variety and severity of such threats have grown exponentially since the internet’s explosive growth and increased availability. The extensive use of and exposure to so many internet-enabled devices has created the perfect opportunity for hackers to test and develop their skills – from bringing down websites to committing mass data theft and fraud. These actions are known as cybercrime – a genuine threat that all internet users should employ some form of protection from.

Around 3.4 billion people now have access to the internet – roughly 46% of the global population – which presents an incredible opportunity for cybercriminals. It takes tremendous efforts to combat cybercrime, requiring a multidisciplinary approach involving software, hardware, ever-evolving policies, and the people to create, manage and maintain all of this. These combined efforts are known as cybersecurity and are constantly evolving with technology and its vulnerabilities.

What happens when cybersecurity fails?

Although breaches of user account security are the types most commonly seen in the news – such as when large amounts of user data from Facebook or LinkedIn accounts are accessed and made publicly available – it’s typically financial gain or access to sensitive business or governmental information that is the primary driving force behind many cyberattacks.

Unfortunately, cybersecurity isn’t a perfect system due to the continual evolution of technology. This, coupled with the opportunities provided by society’s increasing integration with technology, means that cybercrime will always be on the rise. Therefore, every effort must be made to defend ourselves from cybercrime through an increase in development, education, and use of cybersecurity.

What is cyberwarfare?

As a concept once mostly confined to the realms of science fiction, cyberwarfare is now a real threat to governments worldwide. These days, most superpowers have their cyberwarfare divisions as a part of their military – with some governments even focusing their efforts more towards cyberwarfare than traditional, physical warfare. Although such attacks are currently infrequently reported, they will almost certainly increase in the future.

It could be considered inevitable that cyberwarfare, cyberespionage, and cyberterrorism are on the rise. Due to this concept, Australia – and indeed most other world governments – is now well-equipped to defend against and carry out cyber operations. While cyberwarfare can be carried out entirely virtually, its repercussions are almost always physical.

What is automated cybercrime?

The vast majority of cyberattacks happen manually, usually by an individual or group of individuals, often known as hackers using their keyboards to find and abuse weak areas in a system’s security. Although this process takes great knowledge and skill, it can also be incredibly time-consuming for the hacker. Automating this process would have clear benefits to the hacker, and creating software that could hack a security system in hours rather than days would have clear advantages – and could happen fast enough that the target system’s security is breached before anyone could find out what happened, assuming they found out at all.

To combat this process, automated cybersecurity systems are created to automatically defend from such automated cyberattacks – essentially software fighting software – without the need for manual human input. While this concept may seem far-fetched, it’s already a reality. Automated cyber-attack competitions now exist, where supercomputers battle for top cash prizes.

Cyberattacks on infrastructure

The more heavily we rely on technology, the more impact a cyberattack can have on society. Cybercriminals now can access and shut down infrastructures and access control of machinery and vehicles – all of which can potentially lead to loss of life.

Some examples of infrastructural cyberattacks include:

  • In February 2021, a cyberattack on a Florida water plant raised the levels of sodium hydroxide to a dangerously high level of 11,100 parts per million. Thankfully this was detected and intervened before anyone was harmed
  • Australian healthcare provider Eastern Health experienced a cyber incident in March 2021, which forced them to take some IT systems offline as a precautionary measure, resulting in many elective surgeries being postponed
  • Thirty sub-stations in Ukraine were remotely shut down in 2015, causing over 230,000 people to lose access to electricity. In this incident, operators even lost access to their systems and could only witness the cyberattack

These examples show that increased cybersecurity is paramount in protecting Australia’s economy and society as a whole. The more we embrace technology, the higher our needs for cyber defence and security.

How can I protect myself from cyberattacks?

First of all, be honest with yourself about your current levels of cybersecurity. Do you have cybersecurity systems in place? If so, there are almost certainly areas that can be improved. You could take a look at your organisation’s current systems and then write a report card outlining:

  • Your organisation’s policies
  • Training and awareness programs
  • Technical controls
  • Management processes
  • General security culture

Doing so will help you figure out what you’re doing right and where improvements could be made. For example, the smartphone in your handbag or pocket not only poses a risk to your personal information but could also be used to attack your business. Ensure you and your employees are well informed about cybersecurity and prepared for any potential cyberattacks.

Unfortunately, ensuring your business systems are secure is not always enough, as third parties such as distributors, suppliers, or even customers could knowingly or even inadvertently pose a security risk. Wherever possible, it’s always best to ensure they are adequately prepared and protected from cyberthreats.

Ultimately, it is up to you to ensure that your security specialists and IT staff are adequately trained and qualified to help prevent cyberattacks and that their knowledge is up-to-date and relevant to your particular systems.

Senka Pupacic is the Founder of Top 10 SEO, www.top10insydney.com.au.

Conico Ltd: Polymetallic exploration in Greenland

Conino-ltd-executive-director-Guy-Le-Page-in-boardroom-broadcasts

An ASX-listed mineral explorer with assets in three sites across Greenland and Australia, Conico Ltd has recently received exciting news, having seen positive indicative results suggesting the presence of minerals at its Ryberg site.

Listed on the ASX (ASX:CNJ) in 2006, Conico Ltd has recently begun polymetallic exploration at two sites in Greenland. Executive Director Guy Le Page joined the Conico board in March 2006, and is currently assisting with the management of the Greenland exploration activities, which is now in its second field season. Mr Le Page has ten years of experience as a geologist and has spent over twenty years as a resource analyst and Corporate Advisor with RM Capital Group, where he is actively involved in a range of corporate initiatives from mergers and acquisitions, and initial public offerings, to valuations, consulting and corporate advisory roles. Mr Le Page spoke with us recently to explain the background of Conico, the details of its portfolio of projects, and the positive indicative results recently found at the Ryberg project in Greenland.

Multiple projects

Conico has two projects in Greenland, Mestersvig and Ryberg. The project area at the Ryberg site, where the company will be spending the entire of its second field season, is located within the North Atlantic Igneous Province (NAIP), and has two prospects so far, Sortekap and Miki Fjord. 

Additionally, Conico is involved in a domestic project in Mount Thirsty, a cobalt/nickel project located 16km northwest of Norseman, Western Australia, which is a 50/50 joint venture with Barra Resources.

“The company was listed in 2006,” Mr Le Page explains. “It was a spin out from Tasman Resources Ltd, which I’m also on the board of. It had a portfolio of exploration projects in South Australia, and then moved into cobalt and nickel by acquiring the Mount Thirsty project.”

Mount Thirsty is Australia’s most advanced genuine cobalt project, and had a Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS) completed in 2020.​ The project is close to all necessary infrastructure and in a mining-orientated state. Since the completion of the PFS, cobalt prices have dropped, meaning the project will require a price rise to get it re-incubated.

“More recently, in late 2020, we finished the acquisition of Longland Resources, which had title to the Ryberg project in Greenland, and then subsequently we picked up Mestersvig to the north, so most of our activity has been directed towards Greenland [since then].”

The site at Mestersvig is a lead and zinc historical mine, which produced about 0.5m tonnes of 9% lead and 9% zinc back in the 1950s and early 60s. It is a large license area near the Danish military base, with good access and port facilities.

“We had intended to go and do some work [in Mestersvig] this year,” Mr Le Page says, “but ran out of time unfortunately. The main focus this year is at Ryberg, where we have got two prospects.”

A multi-element project spanning an area of 4,500 km2 area on the east coast of Greenland, Ryberg is an under-explored mineral province with a significant amount of magmatism that has intruded the sulphur-rich sediments of the Kangerlussuaq Basin.

Conico-Executive Director-Guy-Le-Page-in-Boardroom-Broadcasts
This is the first diamond drilling programme that’s ever been undertaken in this part of east Greenland

“We got attracted to the project based on some high-grade nickel, copper, gold, cobalt and palladium assays on the surface,” Mr Le Page says. “They were taken by Longland a few years ago, and some of the sampling we did last year confirmed those results.”

Magmatic sulphides have been seen throughout the licence area, but most activities to date have focused on the Miki and Sortekap Prospects. Drill ready targets for potential disseminated to massive sulphide accumulations have already been identified via a high-resolution electromagnetic survey.

“We’ve had visual indications of mineralisation that look encouraging. We haven’t got any assays back yet, but visually, we’re pretty encouraged by what we’ve seen. So a couple of big announcements and plenty of interest from the stock market, which is good.”

The company’s second field season has been in progress for about four weeks on the ground in East Greenland, with three rigs on site and a team working off a ship not far from the project area in Miki Fjord.

“[At] Miki Fjord we got some nickel, copper, platinum, palladium, gold and cobalt assays from the surface rock chipping that we’re following up, and I suspect that’s what we’ve been intercepting in the holes we’ve put down there so far. About 20km away at the Sortekap project, [we’ll have] predominantly gold, nickel and copper by the look of it.”

Conico’s exploration into its Greenland sites are still in the early stages, but the company’s longer term strategy is already taking shape. The priority for 2021 has been to follow up on the surface rock chips found in Ryberg and see if the results could be replicated through drilling. 

“Miki has been the focus of about eight holes so far, seven of which have hit sulphides, anything from massive sulphide to disseminated, so that’s been pretty encouraging. We’re continuing to drill along a 50km strike length at approximately 1km to 1.5km intervals.”

Another area of focus is the maiden drilling programme at Sortekap. The last hole was finished recently, producing some high-grade magnetite containing disseminated sulphides, predominantly chalcopyrite and pyrrhotite.

“Field season will wrap up in early October this year, so that will conclude a three month drilling programme. There will be a lot of work coming up in October through to May, not only planning an early entry back into Greenland in May, but also analysing all the assays and re-logging core from this years field season.”

The company will be assaying for a large suite of metals, and already knows there are large zones of mineralisation, so the excitement is building around seeing the assays to find out more specific information about what is present with good results likely to prompt an expanded programme for the 2022 field season.

CEO Thomas Abraham James is a geologist and founder of Longland Resources currently based in Greenland

Executive team

As the company gathers pace and builds towards more focused activity, the executive team is working primarily in a part-time capacity, the idea being that with some good results in Greenland the people working on a full-time basis will be added to.

“The main driver of the project is [CEO] Thomas Abraham James, who is a geologist and founder of Longland Resources. He’s been based on site in Greenland, managing this programme, so he’s been exceptionally busy managing people, rigs, food, logistics. It’s been a very busy three months, and looks set to continue for the next couple of months.”

The executive team is completed by Mr Le Page and Chairman Greg Solomon, who has practised as a commercial/corporate lawyer in WA for over 25 years. Non-executive members Doug Solomon and James Richardson make up the remainder of the Conico team.

“The next milestone will be to get all the assays back from this field season, because we haven’t been able to ship many samples out yet. We’re trying to ship one lot out at the moment, but we should have all the assays back in November/December this year..”

The potential is there for all to see, and Conico will now be looking to build on the positive indicative results it has seen in the Ryberg region, with potential investors having an eye on results due later in CY 2021.

“Logistics are challenging,” Mr Le Page concludes, “but I think the prize is pretty big. It’s the first diamond drilling programme that’s ever been undertaken in this part of east Greenland, so we’re all pretty excited to see what comes of it.”

With a very promising set of early findings at its Ryberg site, the future looks bright for Conico’s polymetallic exploration in Greenland. Find out more about Conico Ltd by visiting conico.com.au

How Covid is creating the perfect distraction for new Cold War adventurism

Flash points across the globe and disturbingly serious geopolitical decisions taking place at this time of the pandemic make for hard reading for any business executive, funds manager or investor. 

This is not likely to be a “Cuban Missile Crisis” moment – more of a Berlin Airlift marker in time. Historians and policy wonks alike might suggest that we are facing a mid pandemic crisis of our own making: authoritarian states acting without due caution and free societies subsumed by the herculean tasks of medical, social and economic recovery. 

Three separate but somewhat related news items in April 2021 could easily be ignored or seen as minor footnotes in an already complex defence and security landscape. Taiwan, Ukraine and the UK’s nuclear arsenal seem very different to the expert eye – somewhat awkward for any commentator to bind together into a compelling narrative. But they are just as strategically important as vaccination programs, Covid testing regimes or labour market conditions as societies come to grip with a global shock that was more immediate than the 2008 financial crisis, terrorism or climate change.

The three flash points or markers are a sign that we are neither in “peace” or “war” but in a period of military/security adventurism. The sort of thing that markets, investors and corporate leaders despise for its uncontrollable nature. Mistakes can be made and errors in decision-making can be critically significant.

We have the People’s Republic of China (PRC), with its new found investment in high tech weaponry, blue water navy aircraft carrier capacity and extensive amphibious deployment skills, operating a high risk incursion strategy over Taiwan’s controlled airspace. 

Of course, Beijing views the rebel province as a breakaway relic of the Civil War and Cold War eras. But a democractic, liberal and prosperous Taiwan is a thorn in the side of the narrative that China requires both political and economic authoritarianism to create the conditions for affluence (for the privileged cadres), improvement (the many) and alleviation from abject poverty (the remainder 100 million). 

More than a hundred military aircraft incursions over recent months have tested the resolve and the readiness of the Taiwan State. Intimidation and aggressive diplomacy making US commitment to Taiwan’s security a real flash point in super power relations.

Ukraine’s eastern borders have seen massive troop build ups by Russian military operations – so called exercises and regular deployments – in a way reminiscent of the earlier capture of the Crimea and Don Basin. 

NATO worries are compounded by the decision years ago to falter in steps of offering Ukraine NATO membership – in support of early post Cold War guarantees/promises by confident politicians and strategists – long overdue in the eyes of Baltic members like Lithuania. Frontline NATO states like Norway, Sweden, Poland and Turkey have eyed Russian activity with concern over the last three years. Instability in Europe – considered the epicentre of the Covid crisis by some – is feeding a belief that Western security is fragile in the face of robust Russian efforts in the Far North (Artic), Black Sea, Syria and Africa to extend its reach of influence.

Finally, the focus of the United Kingdom’s Integrated Review into its near term defence and security needs is telling. More money for Cyber, Grey Zone warfare capabilities, Information Warfare and Special Forces. More than nine thousand fewer soldiers and the end of the commitment to deliver a Division to any land warfare environment. The British Army to be more likely to be seen as a “two brigade” asset in this era. Smaller than any time since the early period of Victoria’s reign. But importantly a rise in the permissible number of nuclear warheads – a 15 percent increase that shocked experts and policy writers alike.

This increase in the “hitting power” of the UK and its accompanied media confirmation that the rules/framework behind allowed use of such missiles have changed are critical pointers to a heightened geo-political period of tension, preparedness to respond and ability to cause catastrophic damage. Rogue regimes like North Korea or Iran can be easily seen to be given due warning that diplomatic admonishment or economic sanctions are not the only option available.

What do these three ugly reminders of reality tell us? It is a more dangerous and risky environment than 2019, 2008 or 2001. There is an appetite by major authoritarian players (Russia and China) to flex their muscles in a way that will undermine and confront the rules based international order. This is no surprise but a meaningful reminder that economic/social nationalism stoked by the pandemic, closed borders and disrupted trade can produce the conditions for aggression unchecked by cautious statecraft. There is a growing appreciation by Western countries that freedoms cost money, investment and updated deployment of relevant technology. A 40% increase in defence spending by Sweden (compared to early 1950s Cold War levels), open investment into ballistic missile technology by Australia, increased nuclear arsenal by the UK and dedicated naval exercises by the Quad (US, India, Japan and Australia) near the South China Sea all deserve attention from business, investors and shareholders. 

We are not about to walk into a global conflict. But what we seem to be doing is striding forward towards a pathway that will comprise increased sovereign risk, higher likelihood for technology/trade sanctions and greater taxation calls on corporate profits. Big tech, mutual funds and profitable transnational corporations should not be surprised if Western governments impose more controls and burdens to defend the very societies that create the conditions for wealth and innovation.

It is more like 1948 than 1962. It is the beginning of a fresh conflict between strongly divergent social/political values. What worked in the past – collaboration between Wall Street, Main Street and Government – may not be easily replicated. But expect to be asked what you can do for your country. It might be more significant than any nominal flag waving, BLM or CSR strategy. It is about recognising that the period of globalisation as we knew it (supply chain across five continents with free flows of capital and even people) may well be a thing of the past.

Noel Hadjimichael is a London based public policy consultant in the security, defence and civil society space with relevant experience working in politics, the civil service, industry and the charitable sectors. 

Prepare for a post-pandemic spending boom & bust

David Rosenberg is the Founder, Chief Economist & Strategist of Rosenberg Research & Associates in the Boardroom Broadcasts

If you ask anyone in the market why they are bullish for 2021, they will tell you right away that they see a light at the end of the Covid tunnel. And indeed, with the multiple vaccine news we have received since the beginning of November, there is a light. There may be many potholes, with the coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and fatalities on a disturbing upward trajectory, and a very tough winter staring us in the face, but there is a light that we can now all see. To have vaccines developed and now distributed in such volumes and with such tremendous efficacy levels, and done so quickly, does indeed make one tempted to believe in miracles we thought were only saved for the bible stories.

So what lies ahead for the coming year. A very rough first quarter for the economy. And then a better second quarter. And quite likely boom-like conditions in the second half of the year as substantial amounts of pent-up demand get released. You speak to most people, and the first thing they want to hear upon getting the jab are the words “please fasten your seatbelts”. Travelling, mall browsing, bar hopping, eating out, dare I say, socialising, will be all the rage. It is called “pent-up demand” for a reason. And this will be the single dominating force driving the economy in 2021, barring any unforeseen setbacks (as in, not enough of a vaccine take-up to achieve the Holy Grail of herd immunity. No central bank will dare tighten monetary policy even if inflation rears its (pretty?) head, the fiscal spigots will remain turned on in a major way. Interest rates, by hook or by crook, will not be allowed to rise as they have typically done in past aggressive economic recoveries. If you are a policymaker today, the last thing you will be doing is upsetting any apple carts.

So the economic outlook for 2021 is perhaps the easiest one to make that I can recall in my 35 years in the forecasting business. There will be a post-pandemic spending boom. It’s only a matter of how big and what quarter it begins. That light, indeed, does shine bright. Much of this good news, as an aside, is priced into every global financial asset you can probably name. Even the previously beaten-up airline, casino, retail and hotel stock you can think of has priced in the light at the end of the tunnel.

But, you see, from a financial markets standpoint, just as the economy booms next spring and summer, even into the fall, investors will at some point in 2021 have to confront what life is going to be like once we get past the light. At some point next year, I guarantee everyone that just as the markets were soaring during the darkest of hours during the pandemic in 2020 because of the light they saw at the end of the tunnel, these same markets will be beyond that light even as we all go out and have fun again. That’s the thing about markets – they move earlier and more quickly than people do.

All that said, I do think from an economic standpoint, there will be an economic recovery of epic proportions. But the recovery beyond the end of 2021 will be muted and frustratingly slow, and it could take at least three years before all the economic damage from the virus and the lockdowns are ultimately recouped. Then think of a future with massive public deficits, debts, and government intervention and regulation. Then we have to consider, when we get to the other side, how these massive central bank balance sheets will get dealt with. Will the debts get monetised or not? And a world of reduced globalisation and more localised supply chains, an end to-just-in-time inventories, and what the future holds for taxation. I don’t know about you folks, but it is crystal clear to me that in this period of heightened uncertainty, it will be capital, and not labor, that defrays the cost of the rescue packages, and that means higher tax rates on capital gains and corporate income. The current surge in the deficit is not about shovels in the ground with some hope of future multiplier effects on the economy – it is simply a transfer from some future taxpayer to today’s household and business who are out of work and for some reason had no cash, savings, or liquidity to get through even a few months of shutdown for public health purposes.

What the world looks like when the crisis ends is truly anyone’s guess but I will say with 100% clarity that it is going to look a lot different than it did before. Not just the question over government policy, but at the individual level, months of isolation and distancing, and fear of a return of the pandemic are going to fundamentally alter lifestyles, and will have a profound influence not just on the way we live but how we conduct ourselves in our personal and commercial lives. For example, working from home is certainly going to be a more dominant force even once we move beyond the light at the end of the tunnel, with obvious negative implications for commercial real estate but positive implications for internet infrastructure, computer hardware and video conferencing. There is going to be a sharp reduction in travel to work, travel in general, and this means fewer cars on the road, there is nothing here that is very good for the auto sector, and the future therefore is really clouded for office REITS and commercial real estate in the large densely populated urban areas. But there are some bullish themes that emerge too. As we go into an era of elevated personal savings rates where people are going to focus on what they need, not what they want. This means to screen all of your equity exposure for “utility-like” characteristics – and that includes anything related to ecommerce, cloud services, delivery services and wiring up your home to become your new office. What lies beyond the light at the tunnel is a secular shift in economic behavior that took place during this grim period of history; shifts I believe are secular in nature, that tell me to focus on areas of the market, consumer staples, health care and even big tech, that have morphed into essentials.

No doubt, the investment community is paying more for duration today than they ever have in history but since we can anticipate rates to stay low for years to come, this valuation driver becomes the dominant issue that will be driving the market and prospective returns. This is exactly why growth investing trounced value for much of the past decade, even before the pandemic. Ultimately, the growth-versus-value decision depends on what the world will look like once Covid-19 is in the rear-view mirror. But even with a vaccine, if we return to the pre-Covid world, when you think about it, it actually means a return to a slow-growth, low-interest-rate, and low-inflation world, which means growth will remain the place to be because they are the longest duration stocks in the equity market. For cyclicals and value stocks to work, you want faster economic growth, signs of inflation, and higher interest rates. There’s been a move recently into the value trade and it does make sense since these stocks are dirt cheap and deserve to be rerated positively for a post-pandemic world. But at the root, this is really just a mean reversion trade, and it may have more legs to it. But that is why it is referred to as the ‘value trade’ and not the ‘value trend’; for the same reasons value unperformed growth 80% of the time and by more than 3 percentage points per year during the 2009-2019 bull market expansion.

The major point I need to emphasise right out of the gates is that it can’t possibly be lost on anyone that what we had was a health crisis that morphed into an economic crisis and then somehow managed to morph into a financial crisis that was ten times worse than anything we saw in the Great Financial Crisis. We simply refuse to stop these cycles of redressing debt crises by adding more debt, which merely compounds the adverse effects from the recession that is inevitable, and yet at the peak of the cycle nobody ever seems to be prepared for one.

The vaccination process is no reason to believe we are not in some form of economic depression that has only been disguised by unprecedented policy stimulus. Just because your kid has training wheels doesn’t mean he (she) knows how to ride the bike. And we have an economy on our hands that could not survive without large-scale deficit finance and central banks suddenly acting like hedge fund managers. This is why it’s going to be a depression because what comes next is a secular change in attitudes towards credit and towards savings. I mean, seriously, over half of American households didn’t have enough cash on hand to even get through three months of a job loss — quite remarkable when you consider Canada went into this mess with a 50-year low unemployment rate of 3.5%. Not to mention the corporate sector where, for some reason, the word “liquidity” became a dirty nine-letter word this past cycle. Now every business has working capital they have to cover with a fraction of last year’s cash flow. And this got me thinking about how the future will be one of treating “savings” as sacrosanct. Beyond the quarter or two of pent-up demand release in 2021, frugality is going to emerge as the primary theme. It’s not the end of the world, either, unless you’re an advocate for a sustainable and vigorous economic expansion.

In a narrow view, the markets are telling us that the ‘new normal’ will be a ‘reversion to the mean’ where life goes back to normal. And to that I say not so fast. People will surely go back to restaurants, hotels and airplane travel in due course, but don’t think for a second that there will not be residual impacts. The narrative emerging from the recent trading action in the equity market tells us that we are going back to our old lifestyles and that is what I would bet heavily against. I have seen, and continue to see, secular shifts in behavior that will transcend a couple of quarters of pent-up demand release, that we will be stuck with a permanently higher equilibrium personal savings rate and a permanently lower labor force participation rate. And if we do somehow revert to the old normal, remember that the prior ten-year period was one of low growth, low inflation and low interest rates. I don’t see that changing because the secular forces of aging demographics, massive debt burdens and extreme income and wealth inequalities, if anything, have become accentuated by the pandemic.
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What the world looks like when the crisis ends is truly anyone’s guess, but I will say with 100% clarity that it is going to look a lot different than it did before. I sense that some of the structural changes in our economy could be long-lasting. Global supply chains could shrink, and in some cases we might see the full repatriation of manufacturing in certain industries, for instance in pharmaceuticals, food and high-tech like semiconductors. Areas deemed to be in the realm of national security. Before the pandemic, the emphasis was on “just-in-time” production, with parts being delivered just when they were needed in the manufacturing process.In the post-pandemic period, the emphasis could shift, to some extent, to “just-in-case” supply chains, emphasising proximity and certainty of delivery. And then beyond the question over government policy, we have to consider at the individual level, how months of isolation and distancing and in the future, a fear of mutation of the pandemic, are going to fundamentally alter lifestyles, and will have a profound influence, not just on the way we live, but on how we conduct ourselves in our personal and business lives.

Then we have to consider, when we get to the other side, the massive government debts we will have built up and how that, along with even more bloated central bank balance sheets, will get dealt with. Will the debts get monetised, or not? Or God forbid, will taxes have to go up on the middle-class? Just some things to contemplate in 2021 as we get our booster shots and then race to the local brasserie. The stock market is not the economy so don’t believe for a second that record equity prices means the road ahead isn’t going to be a bumpy one.

David Rosenberg is the Founder, Chief Economist & Strategist of Rosenberg Research & Associates, www.rosenbergresearch.com.

Bill Identity (ASX:BID): A leading global provider of utility bill management technology

Bill Identity Managing Director Guy Maine in Boardroom Broadcasts

Trusted by businesses around the world, Bill Identity’s cloud-based technology leverages Robotic Process Automation, removing the need for human intervention and giving organisations control over their energy spend.

Founded in 2012 and listed on the ASX (ASX:BID), Bill Identity operates across Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. The company’s innovative technology serves its clients by improving data visibility, integrity and control. Managing Director Guy Maine has 20 years’ experience in senior executive roles across major Australian companies, and talks to us about the benefits of using Robotic Process Automation, the acquisitions that have helped the company grow, and plans to continue its growth by playing a role in the global automation of utility bills.

The fourth revolution

“The way I explain who we are and what we do is to bring this back to [the consumer],” Mr Maine says. “You would receive an electricity bill for your household, and when that bill arrives you would probably look at the cost, but you then probably don’t do much about that bill until you actually put it in your diary to pay it.”

Bill Identity (ASX:BID) deals with an expanded version of this process, relating to large multi-site enterprises that would expect to receive thousands or tens of thousands of bills that need to be paid every month.

“They wouldn’t have dissimilar practices to [the consumer]. They would receive those bills; they would enter those into their Accounts Payable system. They may check a few of them, make sure that the rate’s right potentially, and then approve them for payment.”

Bill Identity’s job is to manage electricity, gas, water and other commodities for these businesses. It runs the bills through a robotic workforce, digitising the data and exploring every item to make sure it’s correct, following up on any exceptions on the clients’ behalf and even paying bills for some clients.

“RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, is being talked about as the Fourth [Industrial] Revolution. RPA simply takes processes that have previously been done manually, and utilises a robotic workforce to do that same process. We’re talking about code and algorithms being built for us in the Amazon Cloud.”

For example, a certain robotic worker for Bill Identity would be programmed specifically to read every item on a particular bill, told where to find them in order for it to be digitised and put onto the company’s platform for other robotic workers to validate.

“It’s doing something through automation that previously you probably would have got on an Excel spread sheet, or you would have had someone manually entering that data into it’s own Accounts Payable system. So that’s what Robotic Process Automation is.”

Bill Identity in Boardroom Broadcasts
Bill Identity (ASX:BID) assists in the area of invoice management for companies expecting to receive thousands or tens of thousands of bills needing to be paid monthly

The company is unique in the world for utilising RPA in the niche of utility bills; no competitor in the sector is using robotic workers as a complete end-to-end process to collect, digitise, analyse, validate and pay a bill as Bill Identity does.

“We launched this business in Australia over 5 years ago, and we’ve been prosecuting our strategy here in Australia since then. We have since progressed, and our geographies are under management, so we’ve now been operating in the UK for around 18 months, and more recently in the USA.”

The company sees that it has a role to play in the global automation of the utility bills niche, using its propriety tech to help businesses across the world manage their bill stream more effectively and with deeper and richer data than they have before.

Though keen to grow organically, Bill Identity also recognises the strength of growing through acquisition. This was evidenced in 2020, when it acquired a UK-based management software business call Optima Energy Management.

“What we saw in Optima was a proprietary software platform, the owner had been managing that business for 30 years, built a good reputation up. His software purely managed validation of bills, and it was very good at doing its job, but it didn’t do the remainder of what we do: the collection of bills utilising robotic workers.”

The company recognised Optima’s existing software as something it could replace and upgrade, as well as benefitting from Optima’s expertise and market credibility, which bought with it a number of long-serving, important clients.

“For us, it was an acquisition that gave us scale and market share in a market that we certainly want to grow into and had already started that process. It was an opportunistic acquisition; it had a great database of clients; it was well-considered software; and simply we want to take those clients to the next level in terms of RPA and our platform.”

Founded in 2012 and listed on the ASX (ASX:BID), Bill Identity operates across Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe

When it comes to a tree of development that will further the technologies that Bill Identity deals with, RPA is the beginning of a journey that will move through machine learning on a pathway towards the ultimate goal of Artificial Intelligence.

“You have desktop RPA – which is utilising robotic workers to do simple tasks. Our RPA is more cognitive. We can have robotic workers that determine whether a bill is accurate or not without our intervention. With machine learning you go to the next step. There is an allowance in the code of robotic workers that they can start to see patterns in data.”

As the company signs more and more clients, machine learning would allow it to gain an understanding and analysis of trends, with robotic workers being able to interact with the data in more complex ways.

“You might have one particular main street, where a number of our clients operate from, and our robotic workers will be able to pick up where one particular side is utilising more energy than another in a similar environment. That’s where machine learning can start to help, and it can be utilised to be a benefit to individual clients.”

Progressing down the pathway through machine learning will help the company do more analytics around consumption, goals and net zero targeting, amongst other things, purely based on the robotic workers’ findings.

“We’re a relatively young company,” Mr Maine concludes, “with proprietary Australian technology. We are unique in the world in terms of utilising a robotic platform in the cloud for utility bills. We now operate in over 40 countries. We are expanding globally. Our customer base spend is in excess of $5.8bn in utility spend per annum. We’re very keen on propagating our story in the US specifically this year, and investing behind that opportunity.”

With its Robotic Process Automation technology offering global businesses a service unlike any other in the world, and a pathway towards even greater technologies, Bill Identity (ASX:BID) is forging a path through the fourth industrial revolution. Find out more about Bill Identity by visiting billidentity.com.